Austin plans to ban e-cigs in same places as smoking

E-cigarette (KXAN Photo)
E-cigarette (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Right now, 10 states and hundreds of cities, including Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City and Waco have prohibited e-cigarette use in the same places where smoking is already prohibited. Thursday, city council approved a resolution that shows Austin aims to be next on the list.

The move directs the city manager to draft amendments to the city code and add electronic smoking devices to the list where smoking is prohibited in public places — think parks, city buildings, the workplace.

KXAN spoke with parents who appreciate the intent and business owners, who fear any fallout.

“I’ve seen a huge change first from kind of the buffer zone around buildings for regular cigarettes and now that’s been expanded to e-cigarettes,” Melissa Abber said, who is prepping to move her family to Austin from Boston.

“I, as a parent, would just feel more comfortable if I weren’t around external factors that could contribute to any find of breathing issue no matter what it might be,” she said.

Council Member Ora Houston sponsored the resolution council members passed on consent Thursday.

“Austin Public Health has indicated for some time now about the public health benefits of not smoking. Period. And not smoking e-cigarettes, vaping,” she said. “People will come into a restaurant where you can’t smoke and then they will vape and think that that’s okay.”

The resolution pointed to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) findings showing e-cigarette vapors contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals, and notes the FDA’s recent extension of regulatory authority to all tobacco products to improve public health.

Last December, the U.S. Surgeon General reported being exposed to second hand aerosol from e-cigarettes was dangerous because of the nicotine it contains. Last month, a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 1 in 4 middle and high school students reported being exposed to secondhand smoke from E-cigarettes in just 30 days. That’s nearly 6.5 million teenagers.

Charlie Hodge, president of the Texas E-Cigarette and Vaping Association wasn’t convinced of the findings noted in city council’s resolution and told KXAN, “It’s like a witch hunt. And I don’t know why.”

Hodge says the barrier, putting smokers and vapers in the same category under the city code, does more harm than good. “It’s dangerous for the city council to discourage smokers from trying to quit,” he said.

Hodge knows firsthand the power of addition and has seen e-cigarettes help. “I sadly made a foolish decision when I was in high school to try a cigarette and despite the fact that I knew it killed my grandfather, I smoked for over 10 years and it was the hardest thing to quit.”

Houston emphasized, “All this does is just ban vaping in the same places that you can’t smoke now.”

Last September, the city of Round Rock amended a smoking ordinance, banning e-cigarettes from indoor public places. In June 2014, the city of San Marcos banned smoking-including e-cigarettes inside bars, restaurants and businesses. Georgetown did the same three years ago.

Austin City Council is asking the city manager to bring back an ordinance within 90 days. The penalty for violating the city’s smoking ban is a fine of up to $2,000.

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